The former manager of Watford Foodbank has admitted the charity is “holding its breath” as it waits to see how much demand will increase for its services when the full effect of the economic downturn of the coronavirus pandemic is felt.

Andrew Tranter and his successor Shaune Pinder welcomed the High Sheriff of Hertfordshire Henry Holland-Hibbert, his wife Kate and daughter Isabel to the Empire Centre foodbank, in Imperial Way, last Friday.

Mr Holland-Hibbert, who lives just outside Watford, wanted to find out more about the foodbank, which provides free emergency food and support to individuals and families in need, and the challenges it was facing due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Mr Tranter said the foodbank is currently in a “transition period” but he believes it is only a matter of time until more people need its help again.

He said: “The uptake has slowed down very slightly but we all should be aware that already in our town there are certain organisations, especially in the retail trade, that are closing down and people have been made redundant.

“We’re still waiting for what’s going to happen when the furlough scheme really finishes because that will mean companies will have to make some very tough decisions.

“We are holding our breath a little bit because that will then mean that more people will have to join the benefits system and that normally means there will be a greater demand for our services.

“One of the advantages for us in the whole pandemic is that we can respond quite quickly to the changes because we can identify them through our procedures and processes, but we are really like most other people. We are not sure what is going to happen, but we do feel things are going to change. I think there’s no doubt things are going to change, it’s just to what degree that will happen.”

Served by around 50 volunteers a week, the foodbank is based at Empire Centre, but it also has four distribution centres – Christ Church, in St Albans Road, St Michael and All Angels Church, in West Watford, the Wellspring Church and South Oxhey Baptist Church.

Watford Observer:

Henry Holland-Hibbert listens to volunteers during his visit

The organisation was given out five tonnes of food a month prior to the lockdown, but this amount more than doubled from April to July as almost 4,500 people were helped, 37 per cent of whom were children.

The foodbank had to halve their number of volunteers to three each day from Monday to Saturday to conform with government guidelines on social distancing.

“At the beginning panic buying in lockdown caused a shortage of UHT milk but fortunately our donors responded and raided their own cupboards,” Mr Tranter said.

“Like most of the organisations providing support to the community we had no idea just what the demand would be and if we would be able to meet it. As it turned out the people of Watford and the surrounding area did not let us down and as food was going out donations were coming in.

“We were delighted to share with Henry, Kate and Isabel our gratitude to the people of Watford who supported us so wonderfully not only with donations of food but also with financial donations.

“We were staggered by the ‘unusual kindness’ expressed in so many ways by the community; our volunteers were often heard to comment ‘it is all quite humbling’ and emotional.

Watford Observer:

The Empire Centre foodbank is open six days a week

Although its experiences in the peak of the pandemic have proven the foodbank can respond to a significant increase in demand, it can also call upon the knowledge gained since it first opened.

Mr Tranter, who is “stepping back but I’m not stepping down” as he remains a foodbank trustee and continues to work at Wellspring, said: “We’ve learned through the years, we’re into our ninth year now, if anything changes from the Government’s point of view, if they change benefits or any kind of system then it automatically has quite a marked effect on the general public.

“We realise these are signs we have to be very aware of. The food is one side but an important part of our work is also signposts for people.

“We talk to the people who come to us in a sensitive way to really try and understand what’s happening and see if there are other ways we can help them or signpost them to other areas of support.

“That often gives you a better insight into what is happening in their lives but also the working environment, so we can often pick these things up fairly quickly.”

Watford Foodbank is open from 10am until 1pm, Monday to Saturday.